The gluten-free diet is a nutritional food plan that excludes gluten and is essential for managing celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which gluten causes inflammation or damage to the small intestine.
Gluten is the general protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. A gluten-free diet is This diet also treats other health conditions such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergies.
How the Gluten-Free Diet Works
A strict gluten-free diet requires avoiding all products containing wheat, rye, barley, or other gluten-containing foods. Despite this restriction, people who follow a strict gluten-free diet or suspect they have a gluten intolerance can still enjoy a varied and nutritional diet.
Some examples of naturally gluten-free foods include:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
If you exercise regularly, eating a healthy, well-balanced, and varied gluten-free diet is essential. This will ensure you receive all the nutrients needed to allow you to perform at your best. The Celiac Foundation recommends getting two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity each week.
The Diet Plan
There are no particular instructions on how to transition into a gluten-free diet. However, it is a significant lifestyle change and can be overwhelming with all the information you need to know. Here are some steps that can help make a gluten-free transition more manageable.
Step 1: Learn about foods to include and avoid
While the premise of the gluten-free diet is to avoid gluten, it is also essential to know what foods are acceptable. When you are shopping, focus on fresh produce such as:
- Plain dairy products
Generally, these products do not have gluten-containing flavorings or ingredients.
The following products, however, should be eliminated in a gluten-free diet:
- Gluten-free grains including wheat (including its derivatives such as couscous, durum, and spelt)
- Malt products (derived from barley)
- Brewer’s yeast (found in beer)
- Soy sauce
That said, you can have some gluten-free grains in a healthy diet, including:
- Corn — cornmeal, grits, and polenta labeled gluten-free
- Gluten-free flours — rice, soy, corn, potato, and bean flours
- Hominy (corn)
- Rice, including wild rice
- Tapioca (cassava root)
The United States’ Celiac Disease Foundation is a good starting place to find out which foods are included and excluded.
Step 2: Understanding food labels
Sometimes it’s unclear whether products, mainly processed foods, contain gluten. Understanding food labels and ingredient lists is a vital skill when following a gluten-free diet and will help you understand what foods to avoid.
To determine whether a product is gluten-free or not, look for the following:
Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) Certification
This certification mark is only obtained through rigorous quality assurance and control testing. These products are certified gluten-free and are safe for gluten-free diets.
All gluten-free products with a label have been regulated by the FDA and are likely safe to eat. To be considered gluten-free, products must have a gluten content below 20 parts per million (about 20 mg per 35 ounces of food).
Check the ingredients list if a product does not have a gluten-free label or certification. You will know if the product is not gluten-free if it contains any of the following ingredients:
- Wheat (and all its derivatives)
- Oats (unless gluten-free certified)
Some products will have an allergen list which typically includes wheat. Checking the allergen and ingredients list will help determine whether a product is gluten-free.
Step 3: Plan Accordingly
A wide range of gluten-free recipes are available online to help you gather breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas. Replacing gluten ingredients with gluten-free alternatives will help you form a shopping list for the week. Purchasing extra equipment to prepare gluten-free foods will also ensure you minimize cross-contact with gluten-containing foods in your home.
Following a gluten-free diet can be expensive, as gluten-free food products cost 83% more than non-gluten-free foods. Overall, the costs of a gluten-free diet will depend on your needs, how many people you are preparing meals for, and whether you need the guidance of a nutritionist or dietitian who specializes in gluten-free diets to help you create personalized meal plans.
Dos and Don’ts
- Do consult a registered doctor or dietitian before beginning the gluten-free diet.
- Do thoroughly clean appliances and utensils before making gluten-free meals, mainly if they are also used to make gluten-containing meals.
- Don’t go to restaurants or eateries unprepared. Ask your servers about gluten-free options and how the meals are prepared.
- Don’t eat larger portions of gluten-free foods under the impression that they are “healthier.” Many gluten-free snacks may contain more calories than gluten-containing snacks, so it’s always good to check the labels.
Sample Diet Plan
A sample plan may look like this:
Breakfast: Spinach and tomato omelet with gluten-free bread
Lunch: Mexican chopped salad with romaine lettuce, black beans, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, avocado, and bell peppers
Dinner: Cajun salmon and potato salad with greek yogurt dressing
Snack: Fruit smoothie, popcorn
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Effective and safe with proper nutritional planning
Research has shown that following a gluten-free diet (if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivities) can help restore small intestine architecture and improve digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and nutrient malabsorption.
Adaptable to restrictions and food preferences
The gluten-free diet offers flexibility for most dietary restrictions so that you can adjust your food options without hassle. All fruits and vegetables are gluten-free, and with many gluten-free alternatives available, it is generally easier to make minor changes without significant setbacks to your diet.
Risk of nutritional deficiencies
People with celiac disease may experience deficiencies in minerals and vitamins such as calcium, zinc, iron, and B. With the complete elimination of wheat, barley, and rye, people on the gluten-free diet may also be low in fiber.
Studies have shown that gluten-free products — like gluten-free bread — cost two to three times greater than gluten-containing products. This may be an issue for low-income households and affect how much someone is willing to stick to a strict gluten-free diet.
The Bottom Line: Is a Gluten-free Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
A gluten-free diet is a lifelong necessity for people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia dermatitis herpetiformis, or general wheat allergies. T
here is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet if you do not have gluten intolerance symptoms will improve health and guarantee weight loss. Thus, if you want to lose weight, it is best to consult a qualified dietitian to discuss healthier and more sustainable methods for weight loss.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.